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Cell Phone Tax Supports The War -

BY Justin Oberman | Thursday, April 20 2006

... the Spanish American War that is. Thats right, that 3 percent "Federal Excise Tax" on your monthly cell phone bill goes to support Roosevelt and his Rough Riders and a war that happened over a 108 years ago!

According to the Non-for profit consumer advocacy group, the tax originated as a luxury tax imposed by President William McKinley on a new invention called "the telephone." Back then only wealthy Americans had phones. While the Spanish American war only lasted 4 months the so called luxury "Tax on Talk" is still around 100 years later and unlike other excise taxes, the money raised through this 3% tax is not "earmarked" toward any specific purpose, (most likely because the reason behind the tax ended 100 years ago) not even to improve service or support for the telecom services that are being singled out for the tax.

Nine federal courts have ruled that the tax is illegal. U.S. Representative Gary Miller has made a proposal, H.R. 1898, and Senator Rick Santorum has introduced a bill, S. 1321, both of which would repeal the Federal Excise Tax. Other law makers, as well, are demanding that the wireless networks stop collecting the tax and refund consumers at least 3 years of fees. Most networks support getting rid of the ban but wireless networks are required to collect the tax until the IRS tells them to stop. "Its taxes like these," says Erin Mcgee, a spokeswoman for, "that makes access to wireless (and other telecom) services less affordable for many Americans." Confronting issues such as these, and allowing consumers to take action about it, is exactly what is all about.

Mywireless-2 was established last year by The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) and member companies in order to effectively educate wireless consumers about cell phone services, taxes and regulations being considered or already in play on federal, state or local levels. After being educated, consumers can then use's website tools to email members of congress and or state and local representatives regarding the issues that effect them the most. To write your representative about the Spanish American War Excise Tax, for example, visit here.

Since its launch MyWireless has teamed up with a diverse and broad based coalition of organizations such as the National Black Chamber of Commerce, USA Next, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Alliance for Progress Institute, among others, and has built a user base in the hundreds of thousands. Depending on the campaign, MyWireless activists have made or sent anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 emails/calls to elected officials on the city, state and national levels.

Besides the Federal Excise (Spanish-American War) Tax, one of MyWireless' current largest campaigns is against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Gross Recipient Tax. Currently, Mcgee tells me, wireless users in the Commonwealth are being doubly taxed on every monthly cell phone bill. Pennsylvanian cell phone users pay a 5% Gross Receipts Tax (GRT) on top of a 6% state Sales Tax (as well as the 3% Excise Tax to help fund the Spanish American war). And like the Spanish-American war Excise Tax, Pennsylvania's wireless GRT does not go toward improving any type of wireless services in the Commonwealth. Overall, all 20 million of Pennsylvania's wireless users pay a total of 20 percent in taxes on each monthly phone bill. MyWireless does not think that is fair. So what they have done, beyond just educating Pennsylvanians about it via newspaper ads, television spots and the internet, is provide the means to contact Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell and State legislators directly to ask them to repeal the excessive Gross Receipts Tax on your wireless services!

MyWireless has also had some important victories. In California they helped defeat a bill for excessive and costly new regulations proposed on wireless services. In Louisiana they defeated three new wireless tax proposals, saving wireless consumers over $30 million annually. In Missouri MyWireless successfully helped cap potentially unlimited local city taxes on wireless services, once again savings consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in back and future wireless taxes. In Oregon MyWireless was largely responsible in shelving a 5% utility tax on wireless services proposed by the Portland City Council and in a MyWireless Texas campaign blocked a new 'right of way' tax on wireless service.

Beyond taxation issues MyWireless keeps consumers informed about new important or possibly damaging wireless issues such as the selling of cell phone records, wireless antennas in the neighborhood, important safety tips for using your wireless device while driving as well as new services such as Wireless Amber Alerts or Enhanced Wireless 911.

Right now all of the advocacy and activism tools are web based but they have plans to start using email and, of course, mobile tools such as SMS and the Mobile Web.

As mobile technology becomes more and more integrated into the daily lives of American citizens it only seems obvious that more social issues regarding wireless communication will also come about. As they do Mywireless will be there helping the average citizen navigate through the often thought of labyrinth world of Wireless telecom legality. "We simply provide the consumer with the necessary information," Mcgee points out, "the rest is up to them."

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